Home News COVID-19 Situation Doctor: Preventive measures could hold off local surge

Doctor: Preventive measures could hold off local surge


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Officials with Roswell’s hospitals say they are prepared for the inevitable surge or peak in COVID-19 cases, and one local doctor says an increase in preventive measures could push back the predicted date, helping put less stress on medical staff and resources.

Dr. Masoud Khorsand, CEO of Kymera Independent Physicians, said statistical modeling data from the New Mexico Department of Health indicates Chaves County will see its peak in cases around May 16.

Khorsand, who is a member of the medical advisory team for the Clinical Care Workgroup for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, receives regular updates on the advance of coronavirus in the state. He’s also part of an informal committee of more than 70 physicians around the state communicating through social media and offering advice to the state health department.

“Unfortunately, the doubling rate is getting faster in New Mexico,” he said of the amount of time it takes for the number of cases to double. A shorter rate means a faster growth of confirmed cases.

Right now, the doubling rate in New Mexico is between four and five days, according to Human Services Secretary David Scrase.

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While counties with higher and denser populations are at high risk of spread, the rural nature of Chaves County works in its favor, and Khorsand and other medical officials are glad to see the community’s efforts at social distancing and other measures — but they think more could be done.

Chaves County held steady at 19 cases since April 11 before two more cases were added Friday. The New Mexico Department of Health COVID-19 dashboard reported 909 tests were conducted here as of Friday afternoon.

“Those are pretty good numbers I would say, but I still think there’s a lot of work to do,” said Kim Webb, infectious disease specialist at Lovelace Regional Hospital.

“I think people are getting better about wearing masks in public. They’re still going to the grocery stores more than I think they should be going. But it’s hard not to when you’re set in those habits,” she said.

Khorsand said the public and local governments have begun to take the COVID-19 threat more seriously since he gathered representatives of the hospitals, clinics, and city and county governments at the end of February, but he agreed more needs to be done.

“Probably within the next two, three weeks, that number is going to continue to go up,” he said.

“This is the time for public places to adopt a policy, to mask everybody, mask their workers,” he said. Businesses should also assign staff to sanitize the stores, especially items used by customers such as shopping carts, and even consider face shields for employees, he said.

An increased effort could help delay the peak date, Khorsand said.

“Albuquerque is supposed to have a surge around May 12. If we can delay a surge in our area by several weeks, we can use their experience and their facilities to transfer intubated patients. And then we won’t get into trouble in our county,” Khorsand said.

He said Chaves County could see about 600 positive cases at its peak, but only a small percentage would be severe. About 20% to 30% might be hospitalized, and of those, 5% might be admitted to the intensive care unit, he said.

At the time Khorsand met with medical and government leaders in February, ICU capacity here was about 12 to 14 patients, he said, but he expects the two hospitals could increase that capacity to handle a surge.

“That’s still 30 to 40 patients in ICU. Although they may be able to handle it, it’s going to be a lot of pressure,” Khorsand said.

At Lovelace, which has a total of 27 beds, Webb said they have taken steps to handle an increase of COVID-19 patients by partnering with New Mexico Military Institute. A large tent from NMMI outside the hospital could be used as a COVID-19 unit for less intensive patients, she said.

“We have the capability of having eight to 10 patients out in that tent. In the event that patients need to be hospitalized more intently than what we can handle in that tent, we will fly them to Albuquerque,” she said.

At Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, which has 127 total beds, Amber Villalpando, director of family care services and house supervisor, has been working with the frontline staff to make sure they are educated on the latest safety recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and making sure the hospital is ready for a surge.

“We’ve actually prepared a unit or space for an overflow or surge area to get that ready,” she said.

Both hospitals have limited entry to one point and triage all those who enter the hospital for COVID-19 symptoms.

Villalpando said she believes ENMMC has adequate supplies such as personal protection equipment for staff and ventilators for a surge, as well.

“I think we are absolutely ready, and we have what we need and what we anticipate we need,” she said.

When Chaves County reaches its peak or a surge, that won’t mean restrictions should be lifted, however, Khorsand said.

“Normal life as we know it is gone. At least for the next 18 months, in my opinion,” he said.

“The curve flattens, but it doesn’t go down,” he said of charts that show the number of cases relative to the number of available medical resources in a given area.

“If you look at the curves in Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea, they are flat, but they’re not going down. And everybody is still not back to normal,” he said.

Khorsand said Roswell should ideally have 300 to 500 people a day tested. Until that can happen, along with testing for antibodies for immunity in those who have recovered and a vaccine, Khorsand said preventive measures like social distancing, mask wearing, frequent hand washing, disinfecting and screenings will have to continue.

To keep up with local coverage of the coronavirus, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/covid-19-situation/.

City/RISD reporter Juno Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.


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